Additional support in schools

How well does Edinburgh provide additional support in schools, asks Gavin Corbett.

We judge our most treasured institutions – health service, welfare system and education – by the service they offer the most disadvantaged citizens.  In schools, the holy grail, quite rightly, is in seeking to bridge the gap for the 20% of children on the lowest incomes who, by the time they start school, are already up to a year further back in learning than many of their peers.

So too with children with additional support needs. School should be a haven for them and then a springboard to allow them to take part in learning as enthusiastically and readily as other children and young people.  Those needs can range from help with English as an additional language, through issues such as dyslexia, autism and physical disabilities and on to support given to children who have to spend long periods in hospital or away from school.

Yesterday at Education Committee, we looked at a report on council performance on providing additional support for children who need it.  It was a report I had requested as a follow up to an earlier, broader report, because I was concerned that the rosy picture it painted was miles apart from some of the really difficult stories parents have passed to me about securing support for their children.  It is important that councillors get a rounded picture of how a service is performing rather just a reassurance that all is well.  So, while it is nice to get positive quotes from parents and young people when things go well (and, of course, the service works really well in a lot of cases) it is equally useful to hear of experiences where there have been frustrations and failures.

One of those frustrations that I hear constantly is that parents feel not listened to, not kept up to date, not well-informed about how they can help at home to complement how a child is learning in school.  The most recent survey of parents found that, in general, parents of children with support needs are likely to be a little less happy with how well the school is working. It would be very interesting to see those data split into the specific type of additional support required and across different schools.

Interestingly, when I sent the report to parents who I know have concerns about support (and huge thanks to those who came back to me, in detail) a common refrain was “no-one has ever asked me for my opinion.  I need to follow up how it is that a survey of parent opinion is missing out parents who have valuable opinions to contribute.

Another common frustration is assessment.  This seems to be a particular issue for parents whose children are dyslexic or have related needs with literacy and numeracy.  There is a perception that, in comparison to other areas, Edinburgh seems very reluctant to carry out assessment, with parents having to fight to get assessment carried out (or, for those who can afford to do so, to pay for private assessment).  We need to get to the bottom of that.

And, finally, there is there an issue about support plans.  Many children who have additional support needs don’t have an individual plan and this makes it difficult for families to know what they can expect and how they can help.  It seems that Edinburgh is much weaker than other councils in that respect. Again, we need to understand that better

Those are just a flavour of the questions that have been raised with me: which I’ll follow up with the staff who specialise in additional support.  Maybe it is unlikely that all children can flourish in exactly the same way but it should be entirely possible for families to be reassured that what happens in school is the very best that the council can provide.